The Spanish Flu: The Twentieth Century's First Deadly Pandemic
Airfare Daily Deals eCigarettes Eyeglasses Hotels Jewelry Online Backup Online Dating Online Printing Online Tickets Skin Care Textbook Rentals Vitamins Web Hosting Weddings
Find thousands of shopping-related forums
SEARCH

The Spanish Flu: The Twentieth Century's First Deadly Pandemic

The 1918 flu pandemic commonly referred to as the Spanish Flu, was an atypically lethal form of influenza the known effects of which lasted from June 1918 to December 1920, and spread across the entirety of the world--even to the Arctic and remote Pacific islands. Between 50 and 100 million people died from this flu, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.

The 1918 flu pandemic commonly referred to as the Spanish Flu, was an atypically lethal form of influenza the known effects of which lasted from June 1918 to December 1920, and spread across the entirety of the world--even to the Arctic and remote Pacific islands. Between 50 and 100 million people died from this flu, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.

Of unknown geographic origin, most victims of the so-called Spanish Flu were healthy young adults, in contrast to other influenza outbreaks throughout history which predominantly targeted juvenile, elderly, or weakened individuals. The Spanish Flu was also implicated in the subsequent outbreak of wide-spread encephalitis lethargica in the 1920s.

Striking with amazing speed, the Spanish Flu often killed its victims within just hours of the first signs of infection, overwhelming the individual’s natural immune defenses so quickly that the usual cause of death in influenza patients--advanced pneumonia--oftentimes never had a chance to establish itself.  Instead, the virus caused an uncontrollable hemorrhaging that filled the lungs and patients would literally drown in their own body fluids.

Image credit

One anecdote circulating in 1918 involved four seemingly healthy women playing bridge together late into the night; over the course of the night, three of the women contracted and died from the flu. The physicians of the time were, of course, helpless.

Although the first documented cases of Spanish Flu were registered in the US (and the disease was tracked throughout Europe long before reaching Spain), the pandemic received the name "Spanish Flu" because Spain, a neutral country in WWI, had no censorship of news regarding the disease and its consequences. In that Spanish King Alfonso XIII was the highest-profile patient to contract the disease, the widest and most reliable news coverage came from Spain. This gave the false impression that Spain was most affected--and logically, ground zero.

Image credit

The overall effect of the Spanish Flu pandemic was so severe in the US that the average life span was expected to be reduced by 10 years.  With a mortality rate at 2.5% (compared to previous influenza epidemics which were less than 0.1%), the death rate for 15 to 34-year-olds was 20 times higher in 1918 than in previous years. Even using the lower estimate of 50 million victims, 3% of the world's population (1.8 billion at the time), died of this disease, with some 500 million (or 28%) ultimately infected.

One physician of the time wrote that patients with seemingly ordinary influenza would rapidly "develop the most viscous type of pneumonia symptoms that has ever been seen" and later when cyanosis appeared in the patients, "it is simply a struggle for air until they suffocate." Another physician wrote, “The influenza patients died struggling to clear their airways of a blood-tinged froth that sometimes gushed from their nose and mouth.” A common children’s jump-rope rhyme of this time was:

I had a little bird,

Its name was Enza.

I opened the window,

And in-flu-enza.

Image credit

Like a proverbial wildfire, the Spanish Flu circled the globe, following the path of its human carriers along trade routes and shipping lines. Outbreaks swept through North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Brazil and the South Pacific--with India especially effected. World War I, with its mass movements of armies both on land and on sea, accelerated its rapid diffusion. Some US allies are said to have considered the epidemic a biological warfare tool used by the Germans; some thought it the result of “trench warfare,” the use of mustard gases and the "smoke and fumes" of the war. Meanwhile, scientists of the time were racing to come up with a vaccine or therapy to stop the spread and cure the dying.

By the summer of 1918, doctors in the US had decided that the worst was over and that the virus had finally been contained. But then the war brought the Spanish Flu virus back to the US for the second wave of terror, first arriving in Boston in September of 1918 through the port during the unloading of shipments of war machinery and supplies. Then as more men across the nation decided to join the war effort, they unwittingly carried the virus with them, to those they contacted in other parts of the world. The virus killed almost 20,000 in October of 1918 alone.

Image credit

On November 11, 1918, the promise of the end of the war enabled yet another resurgence of the Spanish Flu pandemic. As people celebrated Armistice Day with parades and large parties--a reckless mistake from the public health standpoint--a rebirth of the epidemic occurred in several major cities. That winter, the spread was beyond imagination as millions more were infected and thousands died. Even President Woodrow Wilson was stricken with the flu in early 1919 while negotiating the crucial treaty of Versailles to end the War. But just as the war had effected the course of influenza, so too did influenza affect the war. Entire fleets were reportedly infected with the disease, with men on the front too sick to fight. The flu was devastating to both sides, ultimately killing more men than the War itself.

Even today, the origin of the Spanish Flu is not precisely known. Many scientists contend that is originated in China in a rare genetic mutation of the influenza virus. Some further theorized that the flu originated somewhere in Asia, mutated in the United States near Boston, and spread to Brest, France (and Europe's battlefields), with allied soldiers and sailors the main carriers. But no matter the source, contagious disease experts acknowledge that the conditions in 1918 were not so far removed from those of the Black Death in the era of the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages.

References:

http://1918.pandemicflu.gov/the_pandemic/index.htm

http://www.ninthday.com/spanish_flu.htm

http://virus.stanford.edu/uda/

Thumb via: http://api.ning.com/files/WpxvCnnvzCucwb*2RL6WeUgaHPK65GW1ZLQzru8W*eUcT0mlk18phSJKOnrvOu-poEoUHm0HMltuSFQnSY5yu4p9nJSAWBxH/1918flu.jpg

Related Articles:

>  Venereal Warts: The Human Papillomavirus

>  The Women of Nigeria

>  Treating HIV and AIDS

>  Treating Hepatitis

Visit JAMES R. COFFEY WRITING SERVICES & RESOURCE CENTER for more information

Need an answer?
Get insightful answers from community-recommended
experts
in Religion & Spirituality on Knoji.
Would you recommend this author as an expert in Religion & Spirituality?
You have 0 recommendations remaining to grant today.
Comments (5)

Very informative. A clear-cut and direct presentation of facts; no beating around the bush. Perhaps, one of the best writers and researchers ever to grace factoidz.

Thank you sir.

Well written account of this deadly pandemic.

I agree with John. I enjoyed reading it.

excellent article

ARTICLE DETAILS
RELATED ARTICLES
ARTICLE KEYWORDS